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Just a Juicy Little Tidbit

Sun, Oct 29th, 2000
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Monday, October 16, 2000

"What’s this?" One of the two teenaged boys impatiently thrusts an open plastic margarine tub in my face. "We found it out in the woods just lying on the ground coming back from our tree stands." At the bottom of their makeshift container, huddled on a folded paper napkin, a tiny ball of fur shivers uncontrollably, its head and tail tucked well out of view. "Tried to bite me once or twice," by far the largest of these would-be big game hunters quickly adds, just as I begin to reach inside.

I reach in anyway and cautiously give the fitfully sleeping body a gentle prodding poke. The little critter awakes with a jerk and I instinctively whisk my hand away despite my best efforts to do otherwise. Vaguely familiar eyes, incredibly large for the size of the animal’s head, blink uncomprehendingly in my direction. The tail is curiously flattened horizontally and is nearly as long as the rest of its body.

Recollections from a time long ago eventually dawn in my brain and I confidently pluck the tiny mammal up by the scruff of the neck and, much to the amazement of my two human visitors, plop it into the palm of my other hand. "Flying Squirrel, and a baby at that," I finally tell them. The little furred fellow eagerly nuzzles and nibbles at the folds of my fingers in a frantically hungry search for the milk-filled nipples of its lost mother, and I can’t help but chuckle when I realize that this is the probable source of the attempted "bites" reported by my young companions.

"It will die if it doesn’t eat soon," I continue, and begin to rummage through cabinets, cupboards, and drawers looking for possible food, supplies, and equipment. Our two hunters meanwhile, their curiosity peaked, barrage me with a seemingly endless stream of questions. "There’s Flying Squirrels around here, how come I’ve never seen ‘em? What do they eat? How big do they grow? Will it bite? How do you feed them?"

"While Flying Squirrels might be common," I explain, "most people don’t know they’re around because they’re small and mainly active at night. This little guy here is the first I’ve ever seen in Minnesota." I finally rustle up an eyedropper and find a can of powdered kitten weaning formula. "This one is a Southern Flying Squirrel, when full grown only about the size of a chipmunk."

I scoop weaning powder into a bit of milk, add a drop of honey for good measure and stir. "The slightly bigger Northern Flying Squirrel is also found in Minnesota but not down here in the southeastern corner of the state. Both have this weird fold of skin between the forelimb and leg called a patagium," I stretch baby’s legs out to illustrate my point. "The patagium catches air like a parachute whenever these little squirrels jump from a tree and flat tails help them to glide as well. Like all squirrels they feed mainly on seeds and berries, although this little one is not yet old enough to take solid food."

Now filled with my soupy concoction, I stick the eyedropper’s end to the edge of the little squirrel’s mouth. Although it drips off its chin, the baby greedily licks away at the syrupy liquid contently. A second eyedropper of genuine artificial Flying Squirrel milk replacement and the little fur ball is done, briefly whips its face with its paws then curls up for a nap in my hand.

I look up at the two boys watching me. "You know this guy is real lucky you found him, any passing cat, raccoon, fox or coyote would just love to gobble up a juicy little tidbit like this." I drop the sleeping squirrel in my shirt pocket and move to the sink to wash my tools. "Tidbit, hey that’s what we’ll call him!"

Apparently now satisfied as well the two hunters soon depart, leaving Tidbit and me all alone. The little Flying Squirrel wakes up hungry and I feed it every few hours. In a matter of a day or so I’m Tidbit’s "mom," and he clambers down my sleeves for his milk in between naps in my pocket. Like all kids Tidbit grows like a weed, and within a couple of weeks eats a thick pudding-like gruel, followed by his first seeds, and then raisins.

Significantly larger today, Tidbit finds my shoulders, neck, head, and chest to all be excellent perches. In fact, he is sitting up there right now just watching as I type out the words to the story of lucky little Tidbit the Flying Squirrel on this here computer.


Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae (Squirrels)
Scientific Names: Southern Flying Squirrel, Glaucomeys volans, Northern Flying Squirrel, Glaucomeys sabrinus
Distribution: Southern - Widespread throughout the eastern United States, adjacent southern Canada and northern Mexico, Northern – Widespread across Canada and the adjacent northern United States.
Average Adult Length (including tail): Southern – 8 to 9 inches, Northern – 10 to 12 inches.

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